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Jonathan Edwards: The Beauty of Work. A Colonial American argument for social responsibility in the workplace . Why I’m interested in Edwards. I’m a “blue-blooded Boston Brahman”. I’m a Christian ethicist and theologian. I’m the director of the Jonathan Edwards Center – Poland. .

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Jonathan edwards the beauty of work

Jonathan Edwards: The Beauty of Work

A Colonial American argument for social responsibility in the workplace

Why i m interested in edwards
Why I’m interested in Edwards

I’m a “blue-blooded Boston Brahman”.

I’m a Christian ethicist and theologian.

I’m the director of the Jonathan Edwards Center – Poland.

Why you are interested intrigued or infuriated by edwards
Why you are interested, intrigued or infuriated by Edwards.

You teach or study American literature, culture, history and/or (business) ethics.

You are forced to read/teach “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.

Why we love hate edwards
Why we love/hate Edwards

He’s a Calvinist. How do you like someone who believes God creates people just to send most of them to hell?

He appeals to idealistic philosophy, metaphysics, and the Bible.

He uses big words and archaic grammar.

Crossing borders why we struggle to understand edwards
Crossing Borders: Why we struggle to understand Edwards

The “Sinners” sermon is a rhetorical masterpiece – but it is set in a cultural, intellectual, religious climate far removed from readers today.

Beyond words crossing borders
Beyond Words– Crossing Borders

For Edwards, ‘doctrinal statements’ function as grammatical rules implicit in discourse.

Doctrine is foundational for the ethical, philosophical, theological structures that draw upon it.

Theology is an “ad hoc performance … a tool in Christian communal self-description [which requires us to constantly restate doctrine] in the light of cultural and conceptual change.”

A paradigm shift in ethics
A paradigm shift in ethics

A shift from universalist accounts toward particularist accounts ‘that proceed from within a specific historical and theological context.”

This allows us to compare particular systems and authors.

God s sovereignty and human free will
God’s Sovereignty and Human Free Will?

For Edwards free will is not an instrument for moral struggle and victorious achievement, but a capacity for friendship and mystic communion.

Edwards ethics three main ideas
Edwards’ Ethics: Three main ideas

  • Beauty is the key to understanding God as well as the nature and dynamics of (the spiritual) and moral life.

  • The creation of the world was/is the joyful overflowing of the fullness of being and beauty in the divine life.

  • The Christian (religious, human, ethical) life is renewed by participating in the divine life.

The heart of edwards ethical systems beauty
The Heart of Edwards’ Ethical Systems = Beauty

Edwards’ ethics is not fueled by the fires of hell but enlightened by the the beauty of God.

Beauty is relational
Beauty is relational

Beauty is “consent to being”.

  • Primary (spiritual) beauty is warm, heart-felt consent to being in general.

  • Secondary (natural) beauty is symmetry, proportion, harmony.

Divine life is relational
Divine Life is Relational

Trinity: mutual relationship of love.

God’s idea of himself is perfect – this is God the Son. The Holy Spirit is the result of mutual love between the Father and Son.

Hell y es but erotic love
Hell? Yes! But erotic love?

“In Edward’s Trinitarian writings there is a strong theme that accords with the emphasis in contemporary feminist ethics on the positive role of erotic love and intimacy.”

William Danaher

Beauty is love
Beauty is love

Love is relationship.

Love is the sum and root of all virtues, moral attitudes and actions.

Divine life is active
Divine Life is Active

Beauty is active not passive.

It is not being beautiful but “beautifying”.

God’s essential virtues are knowledge, love and joy.

Divine life is relational1
Divine Life is Relational

„The Father is the principle of happiness, the Son the principle of knowledge and understanding, and the Spirit the principle of love. Hence…the Father has love because the Holy Spirit dwells in him; the Father understanding because the Son dwells in Him, and so on.

Creation divine life overflowing
Creation: Divine Life Overflowing

God’s joy could not be contained, it overflowed and the world was created as an extension of the beauty and life of God.

For God love is a disposition, a habit, a life-style.

Edwards was a panentheist!

Creation god enlarges himself
Creation: God enlarges himself

God gives himself to others, creates them to love and be loved.

Human beings are created in God’s image, to love, to seek relationships, to bless and to beautify.

The image of god
The Image of God

Humans beings created in the image of God are also active (dynamic), relational, creative beings.

Personalism: Ethics arises from the encounter with another person.

Participation in the divine life
Participation in the Divine Life

Our lives are transformed by perceiving beauty, by reverence for the presence and power of (divine, religious, ethical, human) life.

This awakens a desire to participate in that life, to participate in its beautifying activity.

Edwards and john lennon imagine all the people
Edwards and John Lennon?“Imagine all the people …”

Ethical Imagination

Imagining the world as a better place is the first, essential step to making it a better place.

Three questions
Three Questions

Communitarianism versus liberalism?

Morality in business? Social responsibility in the marketplace?

Common (ethical) ground between Christians, humanists, agnostics, followers of other religions?

Core commitments of liberalism
Core commitments of liberalism

  • Constitutionalism: rule of law

  • Individual human rights

  • Special priority of individual rights with respect to the common good

Libertarians versus liberals
Libertarians versus Liberals

Libertarians (“classic liberals”) argue for a robust set of property rights that rules out government redistribution and requires a laissez-faire capitalist economy.

(Egalitarian) liberals argue that some redistribution is necessary to preserve equality of opportunity and to prevent or ameliorate poverty.


The liberal tradition puts too much emphasis on individual liberty and too little on community.

Community is a crisscrossing network of relationships between a group of individuals who share a common set of values, norms.

Carrot and stick approach.

Communitarianism vs liberalism
Communitarianism vs. Liberalism

Communitarians accept liberalism’s core commitments of constitutionalism and individual human rights.

Communitarians argue for a communitarian form of liberalism, with a less expansive interpretation of basic human rights.

Mark valeri edwards business ethics 3 phases
Mark Valeri: Edwards & Business Ethics: 3 phases

  • Idealistic: Puritan ideals for economic practice.

  • Pragmatic: practical economic reform, focus on church not society.

  • Sceptical: looked to external controls of the market.

P hase 1 virtue leads to wealth but wealth corrupts
Phase 1: Virtue leads to wealth, but wealth corrupts

A prosperous society was a godly society.

Agodly society was a cohesive society.

In a cohesive society individuals sacrificed private interest for the public good.

Therefore, a wise people relinquished their private interests for the common good.

Phase 2 the visible church as a reforming society
Phase 2: The visible church as a reforming society

He believed spiritual regeneration brings social reformation.

Revivals would spark social benevolence.

Northampton's elite should model justice in their economic dealings.

Phase 2 shades of max weber
Phase 2: Shades of Max Weber

The rich should act industriously for the benefit of society.

Sloth is a disgrace to one's calling.

God prospers those who are of a liberal, charitable, bountiful spirit.

Phase 2 max weber but
Phase 2: Max Weber, but …

Wealth belongs ultimately to the community… individuals are stewards of the common wealth.

Benevolenceis most effective when channeled through the church.

Phase 3 economic crisis market controls
Phase 3: Economic Crisis  market controls

Crisis: inflation, depreciation, trade imbalance, budget (gov’t) deficits, poor investments, private debt.

Edwards despaired of a Christian economic system, and proposed specific rules of economic policy.

Phase 3 distrust of human nature distrust of the market
Phase 3: Distrust of human nature  distrust of the market.

Edwards did not trust the hidden hand of the market.

His resistance to a market economy followed from his suspicion of private enterprise, which in turn resulted from his view of human nature as fallen and sinful.

Johan serr buying and selling edwards and the free market
Johan Serré: “Buying and Selling”: Edwards and the Free Market

Edwards’ understood the most important threats to a free market economy(1) monopoly, (2) information asymmetry, (3) externalities.

Edwards expressed insights into the ‘law of supply and demand’ and understood that “buying and selling” (if regulated) could benefit society.

Edwards and the free market
Edwards and the Free Market

The degree to which Edwards (mis)understood the free market does not devaluate his moral judgments.

Rather his [particularist] ethics provides us with a a framework to judge the moral value of our current economic system.

Mark valeri response to edwards and the free market
Mark Valeri – Response to Edwards and the Free Market

The mid-eighteenth century context--the regnant economic ideology or the meaning of terms such as extortion or monopoly-- compels us to pause before we assume that Edwards really knew what a Smithian free market was. Nonetheless, this essay works well in thinking from Edwards forward rather than locking him into a pre-modern past economic ideology.

Caleb henry je self love and property rights
Caleb Henry: JE: Self-Love and Property Rights

Simple self-love: the love for oneself, one’s own good.

Compounded self-love: the delight one has in the good of others; this is rooted in a law of nature.

Both are good and needed. ‘The good of society requires justice.” But man’s self-interest can also undermine society.

Jonathan edwards on property rights and the community
Jonathan Edwards on Property Rights and the Community

A man should enjoy the fruit of his labor and the benefit of his property.

But the right to property never goes against the community.

Je social responsibility in the marketplace
JE: Social Responsibility in the Marketplace

Scarcity should determine prices: it is God’s providential activity upon the whole society.

Merchants should never use inflation to take advantage of the customer.

Edwards seeks to ensure societal stability because economic instability undermines of individual rights.

Je social responsibility in the marketplace1
JE: Social Responsibility in the Marketplace

Charity is vitally connected to property rights. With societal privileges comes societal duties.

“God has commanded charity through revelation, but also through natural reason.”

Property rights and providence
Property Rights and Providence

Natural property rights will lead to varying distribution of wealth among the populace, but the providence that distributes monetary and societal privileges also gives duties.

By explicitly connecting natural law and property rights, Edwards believes he has ensured societal stability.

Edwards vis vis communitarianism and liberalism
Edwards vis-à-vis Communitarianism and Liberalism

A highly communitarian form of classical liberalism, drawn from his vision of the beauty of God.

Driven by his theology, by his vision of God’s beauty, but open to other religious, ethical, humanist traditions.

Common ground edwards for the religious agnostics and humanists
Common Ground: Edwards for the religious, agnostics, and humanists.

Edwards’ ethics is implicitly Christian.

His insights can be restated as religious ethics.

Or as humanistic ethics.

“Borrowed transcendence”.

Morality in business edwards aesthetic ethics
Morality in Business: humanists.Edwards’ Aesthetic Ethics

An alternative to rule-based and utilitarian ethical systems.

Grounded in recognition of beauty and reverence for being.

Dynamic not passive.

Inclusive, not exclusive.

Engaged, interdependent not individualistic.

Social responsibility in the workplace
Social Responsibility in the Workplace humanists.

Be active, not passive.

Be present for others, seeking relationship, meeting needs.

Seek the public (not private) good.

Imagine and work for a better world (beauty, peace, justice).

Beauty is essential to well being
Beauty is essential to well-being humanists.

Can you imagine virtue and love as forms of beauty rather than as forms of goodness?

Edwards helps us reclaim the innate and essential relation between aesthetics and ethics.

Homeward toward beauty
Homeward Toward Beauty humanists.

Home is where we are right now.

Home is a different way of being present, of appreciating the beauty we are given and experience, of enhancing the beauty of everything we touch.

Homeward toward beauty1
Homeward Toward Beauty humanists.

This is a journey of discovery.

This is a social not individual journey.

This is a journey towards greater beauty, peace, justice among people, between people and all being (animals, nature).

Homeward toward beauty2
Homeward Toward Beauty humanists.

“Our deepest religious responsibility is to love creation and hallow it – in order that it may be changed.”

H. Richard Niebuhr

To savor or save the world
To savor or save the world? humanists.

Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, the savoring must come first.”

E.B. White

J burnell@ ewst edu pl www ewst edu pl

Jonathan Edwards Center – Poland

Ewangelical School of Theology in Wrocław

  • Theologica Wratislaviensia:

    Vol. 7, 2012 Jonathan Edwards

  • Jonathan Edwards Reader: Polish edition Sept. 2014

  • Library resources at EWST: Jonathan Edwards Collection; materials on history of American culture, religion, literature; best English language library in Poland for biblical and theological studies.